Rewilding at Sharpham

What is rewilding?

Rewilding or ecological restoration is a form of land management that encourages natural processes to shape and restore landscapes. It follows the principle that nature should be given the opportunity to express itself with minimal human intervention, reclaiming environments we have ecologically degraded.

Aims:

  • Increase biodiversity
  • Reinstate self-regulating, biodiverse landscapes
  • Give ecosystems the flexibility and resilience to react to environmental change
  • Restore people’s connection with nature
  • Support local communities and encourage new opportunities

We are living in a period of mass extinction and global climate change; something needs to change. Rewilding an essential part of the solution to reverse the already significant losses our natural world has suffered. You can find out more about other rewilding projects here.

Ambios and Rewilding

Ambios is a not-for-profit nature conservation training organisation based near Totnes, South Devon. We have been looking after Lower Sharpham Farm, 80 acres of organic farmland on the Sharpham Estate, for eight years and this is where our 12 week nature conservation traineeship and volunteering opportunities are based. We manage this land for wildlife and the rich mosaic of habitats provides a fantastic learning environment for trainees/volunteers from all over the world.

In April 2020 we signed a 5-year lease on Home Farm Fields, 50 additional acres of registered parkland on the Sharpham Estate, with the vision of rewilding it and expanding our training resource. In July 2020, we submitted a management plan to Natural England to enter a Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship agreement. This has been endorsed by both Natural England and Historic England. The plan lays out our intentions to restore Home Farm Fields to its original parkland condition, which includes opening up the viewpoints for managed access and replanting over 140 trees in their original locations from the 18th century. Alongside this, we will be introducing a small number of grazers (cows and pigs) who will be allowed free access to a combination of fields, reducing their overall impacts on the land and giving more space for wildlife to return. We are excited to share this journey with you.

Having a landscape to learn from that is prioritising land management for wildlife is critical for our nature conservation trainees – many of whom will go on to be the next generation of wildlife professionals.

Wild for People

Sharpham Wild for People is a 3-year project we are delivering in partnership with The Sharpham Trust, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project aims to help more people engage and take action for nature, make more space for wildlife and rewild Home Farm, turning it organic.

The Sharpham Estate is a landscape of high wildlife, heritage and cultural significance. It lies along the Dart River and is situated within the South Devon AONB. The parkland, Home Farm Fields, also has a grade 2* listing. These different values and designations make it a highly regarded landscape, a place that links nature and culture. We believe this makes it the perfect place for rewilding.

Through the Wild for People project, we are also able to offer a number of fully funded 12-week nature conservation training placements to UK residents. You can find out more here.

Devon Rewilding Hub

By restoring the biodiversity of this land, we wish to connect with people engaged in similar activities and inspire others to join us on this journey that will provide an opportunity for local wildlife to bounce back. We understand that rewilding can mean different things to different people, and that connecting with people in a variety of ways is vital to change the way we view our natural world.

We are excited to be working with The Woodland Trust and Rewilding Britain to help facilitate a network of people based in Devon who are interested in rewilding, where they can connect and lean on each other for support, information and guidance.

What have we done so far?

In 2020 our nature conservation trainees and staff have been out surveying and monitoring the wildlife across Home Farm, to build a picture of what the land is like at the beginning of this rewilding journey.

Here’s our findings/ what we have done to date:

April – June 2020

  • 30 farmland bird species were recorded, including three species on the British Trust for Ornithology’s UK Red List for birds increasingly at risk of extinction in Britain: song thrush, herring gull and linnet. Birds on the Amber list were also registered – the dunnock & the swift.
  • 7 different bats were recorded, including our most common, the Pipistrelle, and some of the UK’s rarest bats, including the Greater Horseshoes.
  • 10 different common butterflies were counted including Meadow Browns, the Peacock and Green-Veined Whites, feeding in hedgerow habitats and dense vegetation.
  • Grassland surveys showed that the land to be rewilded is not as affected by the use of chemicals and intensive agriculture as first thought – making it more favourable for rewilding

July – September 2020

  • 8 species of bat recorded, including the rare Lesser and Greater Horseshoes.
  • 14 butterfly species recorded, including species not previously recorded in the Spring such as the small copper, holly blue and gatekeeper.
  • 23 species of river birds recorded, including the curlew which is listed as a ‘red species’ on the BTO/RSPB’s Birds of Conservation Concern list.
  • Grassland surveys found great variation in species richness among the transects with the poorest having only a mean of 6.6 species per quadrat and the richest having a mean of 21.8 species per quadrat.

The full summary of ecological monitoring for this period can be found here.

The Future

  • Replant 140 trees over the winters of 2020/21 and 2021/22 and erect tree guards.
  • Cut for hay in Lower Brick Meadow for two more years (three years in total)
  • Remove all remaining internal fences
  • Erect perimeter fence around the whole holding
  • Instate stock passing points along the farm track so that our wild grazers can chose where they want to graze, lay up, breed and dung – an important feature of rewilding
  • Introduce pigs in April 2021 in Bromley field – a pilot to ultimately allow pigs to access the whole site
  • Create a Rewilding Research Hub, facilitating research across the sciences and humanities to contribute to our collective understanding on the importance of nature.
  • Ultimately (by 2024) to run both Lower Sharpham Farm and Home Farm Fields as one rewilding unit and to inspire other land-owners in the local area to consider rewilding to increase habitat connectivity
  • Increase our capacity to offer additional placements on our nature conservation/rewilding traineeship. This is to allow more people to learn from this landscape and to develop the number of well trained and highly motivated people, which we hope will increase the opportunities for rewilding around the world.